Less obesity when kids delay gratification

Aug. 18, 2012 at 12:04 AM
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MADISON, Wis., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Being able to delay gratification at a young age is associated with having a lower body mass index 30 years later, U.S. researchers found.

Tanya R. Schlam of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention and colleagues said 653 4-year-olds completed a delay of gratification test from 1968 to 1974, in which they were given one treat -- such as a cookie or a marshmallow -- and were told they would be given a second treat if they could wait for an unspecified length of time to eat the first treat. The delay ended up being 15 minutes.

Follow-up studies showed delaying gratification for a longer time as a preschooler was associated with adolescent academic strength, social competence, playfulness, ability to handle stress and higher SAT scores.

"Interventions can improve young children's self-control, which may decrease children's risk of becoming overweight and may have further positive effects on other outcomes important to society -- general health, financial stability, and a reduced likelihood of being convicted of a crime," Schlam said in a statement.

The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that each minute a child delayed gratification predicted a 0.2 decrease in adult BMI. The follow-up study of the participants in their 30s found 24 percent of the respondents were overweight and 9 percent were obese -- lower than the 2008 national adult average of 34 percent overweight and another 34 percent obese.

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